11 Questions: Spencer Willows
by Brent Cole
photo by Aaron Brick
Spencer Willows is awesome. There’s really no way around it and no other way to start off this month’s 11 questions. I can’t tell you when I first met Spencer, he’s just one of those guys who became a regular in the world of Bellingham and the town is better for it. He’s always good for a big smile and a laugh – a genuine soul that seems to bring out the awesome in people and part of what makes Bellingham’s creative community so fantastic – hard working, supportive and caring.
Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us a bit about yourself
I am Spencer Edward Willows, and I hail from Washington, DC, originally. Although I spent 12 years there, I moved to Tacoma just before 6th grade, and spending middle and high school in the City of Destiny really shaped me more than my childhood on the East Coast. I spent most of high school drinking coffee and performing with my rap group, Public Bun. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years in Bellingham, and it will always be ‘home,’ in my mind. I am lucky enough to be a co-owner of Casa Que Pasa, The Shakedown, and The Racket. I have played country music in various local bands (Quaalude County Country Band, Cherry Blossom Family Delivery), co-written a musical (Ded Reckoning, with Kamarie Chapman) that premiered at the Idiom Theater, and performed as Hedwig (backed by an incredibly talented Angry Inch) on multiple Halloweens at the Redlight. I also spin records at events, and on 94.9 KVWV, as PhDJ.
What’s the key to a good burrito?
Alternating textures; I’m a big fan of the Black Bean Supercrunch, add potatoes, drenched in red sauce. I should add that hunger really plays a big part in how good a burrito tastes. I like eating burritos when I’m hungry.
Having been around town for years, you’ve seen the town grow and change. What do you miss most about the Bellingham days of old?
I miss the 3B, I miss the old espresso machine at Avellino (‘Stella’), I miss Stuart’s, Blue Moon, and Paris Texas. But really, I’m happy with the new places around town, and I’m happy with the idealised versions of bygone Bellingham that live in my memories.
If you didn’t live in Bellingham, where would you live?
Probably Portland, Maine. It’s a wonderful town, full of art, music, and food; it’s very walkable; the people are smart and hip, but kept in check by the blue-collar fishing industry. Maine, in general, is a really inspiring place to be.
It’s a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning. What are you doing?
Long walk (Cornwall Park? Elizabeth Park? Maritime Heritage? Taylor Dock/Boulevard? Whatcom Falls?), with coffee (Black Drop? Lettered Streets? Tony’s? LaFeen’s?). If it’s summertime, all bets are off and I’m at the North Shore trailhead for a swim.
You’ve been a fixture on the downtown scene for years, what one thing would you like to change about downtown Bellingham?
More scepters…scepters everywhere!!! Seriously, though, the parking situation is an absolute abomination in the downtown core. We need a system that makes it easier for people to park, and treats infractions reasonably. It is the #1 complaint I hear from customers, employees, and residents, and it has reached preposterous and offensive levels of mismanagement.
Who is your all time favorite Bellingham band? Tell us what you loved about them.
I’ll call it a tie between Federation X and The Trucks. Both bands were made up of truly wonderful people, who really loved performing (most of the time). They were loud, smart, and full of youthful exuberance.
What one band do you wish would play Bellingham again?
Local band: The Cheeps and/or Masters of the Unitard. Touring band: Starfckr and/or Cave.
You have a performance coming up where you’ll be playing music for kids – tell us about it. Is this the first time you’ve done a kids show?
I’ll be leading some songs that are easy to sing along with, preceding a screening at the PFC’s Children’s Film Festival, on March 19. The movie, The Okee Dokee Brothers Through the Woods, centers around music collected on the Appalachian Trail, so my love of American roots music is a perfect fit. I spent eight years as the song-leader at Hidden Valley Camp, in Granite Falls, so I have lead hundreds (thousands, maybe) of songs to crowds of children. I really think singing together is the closest we can come to world peace; it is one of the few things I am not cynical about.
Outside of your establishments, where is your favorite place to eat in town?
Temple Bar for date night (whatever’s on special + pistachios), Grand Ave Ale House for lunch (grilled turkey + soup), Brandywine for dinner with the kiddo (french dip + salad), Goat Mountain for something quick (fennel sausage + salad). I could go on…
You have a three year old daughter, please tell us how becoming a father changed you.
It’s just my favorite thing. I really love the work, the reward, the learning, the connection. I love that it demands you to slow down, and give great focus to the situation at hand. I love that it rewards you for being a good person, by giving the world another good person.
Any last thoughts?
Sure, I think “The Electric Blanket” is a great name for a stoner-rock band.
Published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine